School Readers

Jennifer Bray

Consililum Education library specialist, Sal Flint continues her column – School Readers – in which she talks to educators about their favourite books. This month’s Reader is Jennifer Bray.

 Why ‘School Readers’? 

We all urge kids to read, but how has reading shaped our own personal and professional lives? I want to know which four books have most influenced the people I talk to – an unforgettable children’s book, a novel, a work of non-fiction and a ‘go-to’ book about education.

This month’s School Reader is Jennifer Bray who after more than a decade as a university lecturer in Geography, in West Africa and the Far East, re-trained as (her words) ‘a proper teacher’ and found herself catapulted into the headship of two international schools, first in Hong Kong then in Brussels.  Now ‘retired’, she is a longstanding member of the Board of COBIS – Council of British International Schools –  and a mentor to new leadership teams.

It was a joy to learn about the books that have been influential to Jennifer; I could have talked literature all day with her. I was fascinated and hugely envious of her profound and extensive knowledge of African Literature and utterly in awe that Jennifer had worked at the same university as Wole Soyinka, whose seminars and plays she’d been able to attend. Wow!

Jennifer Bray’s ‘four books’

(Click the book cover to follow the link to Amazon)

1. Chinua Achebe: Things Fall Apart

“In the 1960s, I was a postgraduate student and later visiting lecturer at the University of Ibadan at a momentous time when Wole Soyinka, later Nobel Laureate, was head of the Department of Theatre Arts and when Heinemann had launched its African Writers series:  Chinua Achebe, William Conton, Cyprian Ekwensi, Alex La Guma, James Ngugi…. I read each one as it was published and have chosen one of the first in the series, which became a set book in almost every school’s literature curriculum.”

What it’s about:

Things Fall Apart tells the story of Okonkwo, an important man in his tribe at a time when white men were first appearing in the country and setting up their ubiquitous regime. It tells of his reactions, and those of his family and village, to these dramatic events: his pride, his fears, his exile and his return, and his ultimate fate.


2. Madeleine Albright: Fascism – A Warning

“Over the years friends have supplied me with a wide selection of political biographies with the strong suggestion they were what I ought to be reading! I found many to be lengthy, tedious and self-publicising, but three which I found by comparison to be readable, absorbing and written with great wisdom and modesty are First Confession – A Sort of Memoir by Chris Patten, Climbing the Bookshelves by Shirley Williams, and Fascism – A Warning by Madeleine Albright.

If you have to pin me down to just one book I’d choose Madeleine Albright’s Fascism – A Warning.

What it’s about:

Primo Levi wrote that ‘Each generation has its own Fascism’.  Fascism – A Warning argues that the momentum towards democracy that followed the fall of the Berlin Wall has gone into reverse.  It compares the rise of fascism in the 1930s with contemporary leaders whose extreme views are threatening world order.


3. Gervase Phinn: The Other Side of the Dale

“Affectionately known as the successor to James Herriot, the two series by Gervase Phinn – The Dales and The Little Village School – would always be my first choice of education books – children’s own perception of their education is so enlightening. Phinn is a born raconteur with a keen sense of the absurd.  He learns to slow down and discover the disarming qualities of the Dales children. Set against the beautiful Yorkshire countryside, his accounts of each individual encounter are brilliantly humorous, perceptive and engaging.”

What it’s about:

Gervase Phinn is offered the post of County Inspector of Schools in North Yorkshire and visits village schools in the remoter valleys of the Dales.  He listens as children talk to him about their farms, their rabbits, their family stories, the village gossip, and the eccentricities of their teachers.


4. Arthur Ransome: We Didn’t Mean To Go To Sea

“Although I was of the Enid Blyton generation, it was Swallows and Amazons, the series of books by Arthur Ransome – Coot Club, Swallowdale, Winter Holiday, Secret Water, Peter Duck – that I read from cover to cover.  It was the appeal of the holiday adventures of the Walker and Blackett family children and their two dinghies (‘Swallow’ and ‘Amazon’) as they stayed on farms and explored the Lake District or the Norfolk Broads.  They sailed, camped, swam and fished, and invented island clashes between pirates and explorers.  No expedition was ever without mishaps, nothing was ever quite as they had promised their parents!”

What it’s about: 

In We Didn’t Mean To Go To Sea, the Swallows find themselves drifting out into the North Sea in their friend’s boat, while he had gone for provisions.  There was thick fog, a rising wind, shoals and buoys to avoid and the sirens of steamers somewhere.  They have to improvise, try not to hit anything and work out how to get back.

What Jennifer is reading at the moment:

Fiction:   The Thursday Murder Club   by Richard Osman

Non-fiction:  The Durrells of Corfu by Michael Haag


Sal Flint, is a Senior Consultant specialising in school library development at Consilium Education.


If you would like to share your four School Readers, write to ITM on